It Has Been A Funny Old Year

Greetings ~

2016  (not that it is over yet, but my head is full of Christmas bauble plans already, so it is fast heading that way) has been one to remember. At Bee HQ it has been a weird mixture of very good (moving to a new house/planning a new garden/discovering a new county/the addition of two kittens to the family) and very bad (family illness/Brexit/Trump/the zombie apocalypse – oh! no that hasn’t happened yet, but surely can only be just around the corner).

But as I get older, I am trying not to wish these times away. There is an art to taking the rough with the smooth, and although I am not known for my optimism, I am working on accepting things the way they are and not spending too much time worrying about either the past or the future, but just enjoying BEING.

If change makes you anxious, it can be a tough gig being a human being, and I am talking from my extremely warm and comfy house in rural Oxfordshire. This is hardly Aleppo; I am not a refugee fleeing my country for a better life. I am hugely privileged  and for that I am very grateful and thankful, every single day. Mr Bee and I have found ourselves custodians of a very beautiful old house and we often walk around, wide-eyed in wonder at the beauty and luck at finding ourselves the current owners. So any change in our lives tends to be the sort that many people the world over would jump at dealing with. But change is unsettling for some of us, and 2016 has brought on some big, big changes for many.

So let’s get back to baubles, where my muddy-menopause-mind is on safe ground.

xmas-decs-2

Christmas  has always been very special in my family. We take it pretty seriously. My dear Dad was a fiend at putting decorations everywhere he could get away with. Things dangled from ceilings and curtain rails and tinsel adorned every picture hanging on the wall. The tree often looked like the Christmas Fairy had thrown up on it – no colour co-ordination or ‘theme’ in the 1960s and ’70s. It didn’t matter what it looked like per se as long as all the decorations were up somewhere.

I am rather more fussy, but the same principle applies: Christmas is important and the tree (or trees – is one enough?), the lights, the colours, the food, the family, the warmth, is very special. This year it is going to mark the end of a strange 12 months for us, and many others too. xmas-decs-1

Perhaps the very fact that I am writing about the end of 2016 and it is still November suggests I am not quite there yet with the ‘living in the moment’ ideal I talk about. I prefer to think that maybe I just have a child-like enjoyment of Christmas and am not that good at mindfulness.

~ how soon in Dec can I get away with putting up the tree?

Annie Bee x

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Garden Inspiration (Full of Bees)

When your country has been turned upside down, nobody knows what the future holds, there is enough political infighting on all sides to last several lifetimes, and the summer refuses to arrive, what is a girl to do?

Visit a garden and wallow in the simple beauty of a gloriously planted space of course.

The Cotswolds are absolutely laden with lovely gardens and houses to visit, and I plan to visit each and every one; Asthall Manor, near Burford, seemed a great place to start. There has been a house on that site since 1272 but the core of the house you see today was built in 1620. The reason it is currently open to visitors is the stone sculpture exhibition , “on form 16“, which is organised, curated and hosted by the manor’s current owner, Rosie Pearson. I over-heard one of the gardeners explaining that there are 3 types of visitors to Asthall: those who want to see the garden and admire the house; those who are interested mainly in the sculpture, which is dotted around the extensive grounds, the neighbouring church and churchyard plus a couple of the rooms inside, and then you have people who are interested in the Mitford family, who lived in the manor between 1919 and 1926.

Asthall Manor on form 16

For me, it is always the garden, and this one is utterly gorgeous. Designed in 1998 by Julian and Isabel Bannerman (who also designed the gardens at Highgrove) it is a Grade II listed Historic Garden, and is a wonderful mix of scented, pastel borders, a sloping parterre, wild meadows, woodland and water (including a hidden lake and a glorious natural swimming pond).

swimming pond at Asthall Manor

sempervivum at Asthall

Is it just me or does it seem to be a particularly good year for roses? The roses at Asthall were quite something to behold, draped all over the ancient walls and house, gently scenting the air. I spied a number of gorgeous Astrantia and Achillea which I have noted and will need to try to source for my new garden which will be planted next spring. And the entire 6 acres were a pollinators dream. The place was a-buzz, despite the unseasonal chill in the air.

Astrantia Asthall Manor

roses at Asthall Manor

My photos don’t do it justice ~ if you can, go and visit. There is a nice little pop-up cafe in the walled garden and you get a lovely catalogue for the entry price of £10.

on form 16 catalogue

In the meantime I am having to deal with the possibility that we have Box blight at Bee HQ. A truly horrendous thought. I have also just heard on the weather forecast that there may be a ground frost tonight in parts of the UK. In July.

The world seems to have tilted on its axis. Hold tight and buckle up folks.

Annie Bee x

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5 A Day ~ For Mind As Well As Body

The NHS has added a 5 A Day for your mind to the now fairly well understood theory about 5 A Day fruit and veg. I am not sure when this was introduced to the general wellbeing lexicon, but I rather like it.

wellbeing

The origins of the 5 A Day fruit and veg campaign are a bit unclear. Some argue it all started in the orange- growing fields of California but Ken Kizer was director of the US State Department for Health Services back then . He says that it wasn’t a case, as some have claimed, of fruit and vegetable growers looking for new markets, but a mutually beneficial venture for industry and public health policy.

“It didn’t originate from the agricultural community. It just so happens that when we reached out to them and pointed out this would help them, they got onboard and became enthusiastic partners.”

In the UK there is evidence it was mentioned as far back as the 1980s.

Whatever the history, in 2003 the World Health Organisation launched a worldwide campaign to promote the importance of having 400g of fruit and veg per day which could prevent cardiovascular disease, some cancers and stroke. Since then, many countries have marketed the idea; Australia have adopted a 2&5 policy (2 portions of fruit + 5 of veg which sounds eminently sensible); Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and Norway are all in on it.

Does it work? Well it works at Bee HQ and does seem to have entered the minds of the generation who were at school when it was first heavily promoted in schools here in the UK. Of course it is a target – the campaign in Australia is called “Go For 2 & 5″  and in NZ they add a ‘+’ into the equation (5 + A Day) showing an impressive optimism.

Naturally fruit and veg producers have got in on the marketing act, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. However I think the jury is out as to whether it works.

The government’s former chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, says he thinks it has been partially successful so far.

The middle classes did listen, and the supermarkets listened and they tend to respond to the middle class consumer particularly.

I think it’s been less successful in reaching the disadvantaged communities where those levels of fruit and vegetables were already low.

So now we have a 5 A day for mental health:

Connect

Be Active

Keep learning

Give To Others

Be Mindful

five ways to wellbeing

Food for thought. I like it ~ will it work? Let’s see

Annie Bee x

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Whiskers: mine and the cats’

Hello friends

I just googled “menopause whis” and didn’t have to type in the rest: up came Menopause whiskers on chin, for which there are over 22,000 search results. So it’s not just me then…..

A few alterations to the family bathroom have meant the addition of a fancy magnifying shaving mirror. On testing it out (it swivels and expands out into the room) I noticed I have slowly been turning into a hillbilly  – grey hair abounds, and (as the youth of today might say), WTF!!! a very black thick hair, at least an inch long, on my chin. I suppose I should be grateful it was just the one.

Menopause- chin hairs

A friend of mine of a similar age recently reported she found an eyebrow hair which had grown overnight in the middle of her forehead.  Another couple of friends (a bit younger, but there is seemingly no escape) regularly groom each other, checking for stray nose and chin hairs. This seems like an increasingly good plan. Please send your CV.

The menopause is truly the gift that keeps on giving. I must say, hormones are vastly over-rated.

On a more jolly note our kittens have arrived at Bee HQ. We are all in love!

Whiskers ~ here there and everywhere.

Annie Bee x

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Ciabatta Problems

Hello from a new Bee HQ – the Bees have moved west a couple of counties and we have emerged from under the packing boxes (some of us more successfully than others).

The Aga we have inherited is proving a challenge, both from a culinary point of view (no, there is no alternative oven) as well as a menopausal one. My kitchen is H.O.T. and I am sweltering.

Here is a picture showing the direct opposite of the look I am currently achieving.

Gorgeous Aga woman

My bestie told me once about “Ciabatta problems”. If you google those 2 words, you will find answers to actual ciabatta problems, courtesy of Jamie Oliver et al. I was given this alternative take:

Imagine a family of four around the kitchen table of an evening (Aga blasting away in the background perhaps – menopausal mother in her bikini) ~

Mother: “Your father and I have terribly bad news children.”

Father: “It is truly upsetting and you will need to brace yourselves. We are here to support you through this difficult time.”

Child One: “Is it Granny?”

Child Two (now crying): “Is it the guinea pig?”

Mother: “Much worse. We are out of ciabatta.”

Ciabatta problems can loom large to those in privileged situations; I found myself worrying this morning that my two chooks, Alabama and Georgia, who have had to remain in a chicken hotel for a few weeks while I had a new secure fence put up here for them, have become broody. They are happiest sitting idly in their nesting box, presumably dreaming about babies. They did not take kindly to me unceremoniously dumping them out on the garden and I received a nasty peck from Alabama as a thank you. But this is a ciabatta problem, as is the question of when to start digging out the parterre, or quite where one of the antique iron planters has been put by the removal men. The truth is, we have arrived in our dream house, in an exquisite part of the British countryside, with enough garden to have chooks, broody or not. The vast majority of life’s problems, including having an Aga (which I am calling The Kraken), are very small indeed.

In other news, the Bees are also going to have 2 new Maine Coon kittens to add to the family. Huck and Hero arrive here next week, aged about 3 months. They are brother and sister; no doubt getting them settled into their new home will not be without some challenges but they too will be ciabatta problems.

Annie Bee with Alabama

Have a super Monday

Annie Bee x

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Insomnia: The Upside

For a number of reasons I am having a hugely stressful time at the moment and one of the symptoms is lack of sleep. Some days I feel very woolly headed as a result – forgetful, absent, confused and worried it might be dementia. Stress coupled with insomnia is not pretty.

Insomnia

So what keeps me from going round the twist in bed at night when I am wide awake, ruminating the list of problems and possible solutions, trying breathing exercises (I have had some joy with the 4-7-8 breathing technique which is definitely worth a try if you are also struggling to get a good night’s sleep) and maintaining the view that the worst possible thing to do is check the clock – ” 3.22am!!! I will be a wreck tomorrow”?

Insomnia words

I listen to the radio. Both my mother and father had radios on hand for their wakefulness, each with his and hers earphones. I listen to a mixture of stations and learn a lot along the way. This week I learnt about a very interesting Tasmanian-born New Zealand woman, Ettie Rout who was a very important campaigner on sexually transmitted diseases during World War I.

Coincidentally I listened to an entirely different programme about the NZ practice of using Rangatahi Maori Youth Courts to keep the numbers of Maori adolescents out of the prison system. Maoris count for 15% of the total NZ population but for 50% of the prison population. A similar scheme is being tried in Australia (NSW I think) for their indigenous youth and the results seem promising so far.

I also listened to a very interesting programme about the Battle of Verdun, which, I am ashamed to say I had little or no knowledge of (the Somme Offensive is perhaps more well-remembered here in the UK due to the loss of 57000 British lives in the first DAY). Verdun is still a complete wasteland: the soil is so full of bodies, arsenic and unexploded shells that nothing grows there to this day.

I listen to plenty of uplifting programmes as well. One of my favourites is Doctor Karl on Radio 5 Live’s Up All Night show. There is nothing that man doesn’t know about science – 99% of it goes straight over my head, but I love listening nevertheless.

Listening to the radio in bed

Forgive me if any of the information above is slightly shonky: sometimes it is difficult to remember exact details of things I have heard at 4.58am (“no point in going back to sleep now, I will be up in 2 hours”).

Hope you are sleeping better than me!

Annie Bee x

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Gardening For Health

Hello all

After a month or so away from my blog, here I am, in the middle of winter, writing about gardening! Mind you, with El Niño giving us the mildest of autumns in the UK (not to mention very wet), the gardening calendar is slightly confused. Here in the ‘burbs, we have blossom out, sodden lawns and a smattering of snow. Nature will cope, although there are bound to be knock-on effects during the next few seasons.

I have gardened here for 15 years; when we moved in, it was, in effect, a blank slate. A few shrubs, a couple of roses, a grotty path leading to a half-collapsed shed, and rat-infested compost heaps, allowed us to landscape and plant (with help of course) the garden we wanted. I have learnt many things over the years:

  1. Looking from the house and wondering where to start to get a grip on problems is not going to solve anything: get your boots and gardening gloves on, grab some tools and get to work.
  2. If you do need help, ask. Don’t let the garden go: it will not sort itself out. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade”.
  3. Don’t keep plants which are wrong for the conditions or are in the wrong place. Move them, give them away or compost them. A garden is a dynamic beast.
  4. First and foremost, take care of the soil.
  5. If you have the space and can afford it, get a greenhouse. Growing from seed (which can of course be done in the house) takes gardening to a whole new level.

” A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust” ~ Gertrude Jekyll.

It is good for the body and soul. Therapeutic gardening is an old concept; hospitals have a long history of providing gardens for patients and in recent times there has been research to show that horticulture offers many benefits. One of the best known gardening charities in the UK is Thrive, which started in 1978. They use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. Benefits include

  • Better physical health through exercise and learning how to use or strengthen muscles to improve mobility
  • Improved mental health through a sense of purpose and achievement
  • The opportunity to connect with others – reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion
  • Acquiring new skills to improve the chances of finding employment
  • Just feeling better for being outside, in touch with nature and in the ‘great outdoors’

Who needs a gym membership when there is a garden to get stuck into? If you don’t have a garden: volunteer in one, or help a neighbour, look into guerrilla gardening, read some gardening books, dream about spring sowing.

Ultimate greenhouse

On what has been billed ‘Blue Monday’ (apparently today is the most depressing day of the year) you could do worse than to get out into a garden, be mindful of the beauty, listen to the birds and get moving.

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Annie Bee x